This evening I loaded up my Kifaru Crew Cab (no, seriously) as a test of a new way to dock my assault pack, hooked up the dog (great way to test a pack) and went for a few mile hilly walk/hike.
While doing it, I thought about what else I might change (very little; new stuff works great!), how it was working, and what it was not doing, and why. Naturally, thought of it in the context of the Crossfire and some other stuff I had handled or worn recently.
Up through the early 90s I pined for a really good ascent pack. Not a term heard anymore, the ascent pack came from the Alpine traditions of mountaineering. Later, the Himalayan style guys used version of them for the final 6-ish hour attack on the peak, switching to it after weeks of rucking and basecamping.
But it started in, AFAIK, the post-war era in the Alps. Some of those guys who had learned mountaineering in their various commando units learned they liked it, and did it recreationally afterwards. They developed new equipment and techniques. One was the ascent pack (you may tell me they started during the war, but I have never seen one). You get all the stuff you need for a day of mountain climbing, and put it on from your car, the train station, or the chalet, and go climb a mountain. Back in time for cheese and wine in a meadow or on the patio afterwards.all
The fat, square (or ball like) rucksacks of the day were wildly unsuited to this. So they modified, then made new types of packs. In parallel to the rise of the giants-sized awful pack, and before the external frame hiking pack. The ascent pack was a soft bodied, generally fabric/leather pack which was, compared to a typical small rucksack:
- Narrower, so the arms are free to move. Still one of my favorite points for any pack. If my elbows bump into the pack, that's a disqualifying offense.
- Shallower, to avoid snagging, catching the wind, or letting anything be stored too far away from the body, for balance issues.
- Taller, to get back that volume you removed, without getting in the way. From waist to top of the shoulder blades is typical.
- Contoured, to wrap around the back instead of sitting like a ball on top of it. Generally, with thicker or doubled up leather backings, and later often with actual reinforcements, often lame things like wet molded cardboard, waxed to relatively hold the shape. Yeah, it's a custom frame sheet.
- Attached, with a waist belt (often, at belly height for no good reason I have been able to divine) so it does not just hang off your shoulders, but stays strapped to you regardless of angle or activity.
This all may start to sound familiar. And in fact the closest I ever got to owning something like this was a late-80s Campmor model (a knockoff? I could never tell). Gray and black cordura, it was hilarously similar in size and layout to the RAID.
Mine had a padded back, sewn-in almost quilted foam, which gave it some rigidity. Mine had ski slots. I used it on multi-day hikes in the Flint Hills, and skiing when we had snow, and so on. Especially when docked (my sewing) to a fannypack to get a more suitable waist belt, it was sensational.
It was sadly lost, when stored post-college at my parents a cat peed on it and it got into the non-removable foam and that was it.
(I promise I am on topic)
But things evolve. The ascent pack disappeared as many generic daypacks, hiking packs, etc. took on the features, such that by the mid-2000s I am in very good outdoors stores and no one of the next generation younger than me even recognizes the term. Everyone now has ice axe loops, but how many day hikers need those? They are an ascent pack feature, as those guys need ice axes at a moment's notice.
When hiking today, I thought once again about the geometry of a frame pack. My Kifaru runs the way I have always wanted them to: probabilistically. Like the electrons around an atomic nucleus, the pack is near you, somewhere, in a predictable range. They "float" near you, and that's great and a way that makes them very comfy despite the large loads and rough terrain.
Unless you do something out of the norm. Running, let's say. Then they bounce up and down rather unpleasantly. And if you are walking the dog, or have a slung MG, you cannot sorta hang on to the shoulder straps to calm it down, and suffer instead.
So, evolution. The single digit minutes I had the DG-16 on it felt entirely different from a normal ruck. Certainly from any external frame pack before, but I didn't recognize till now that despite my thinking it's a bit of a hybrid, less like one of those internal frames than like the next evolution of the ascent pack.
A right-sized pack, contoured to your body and firmly attached, that therefore does it's own thing — staying attached to you and not shifting about while you do your thing. A pack that you can ignore, and doesn't move when you hike, climb, rappel, run, etc.
I will need to do a side-by-side hiking/climb/run/scramble comparison but I think this will pan out. And as much as I want to be a one-pack-for-all-things guy, believe that this as my second pack will be a good thing for mission choice; light and active or heavy and load-adaptable but more straight line. It works. Looking forward to playing more.